Are men superior to women as their head?
This post is the second part in a “first” for Women in Ministry blog. I have never before taken the writing of a complementarian and posted it on my blog. To facilitate dialog, I have agreed to post Mark’s articles so that we can have a jolly good discussion/debate with those who care to participate on the issue of what “head” means. The first part of Mark’s article dealing with the context of 1 Corinthians 11 is here. These posts are carried forward from a previous post that had a lot of good discussion regarding my youtube videos on the issue of women in ministry. If you would like to get a good idea of where this discussion comes from, I refer you back to the post called Women on Trial.
Mark is a complementarian from Australia. Mark believes that the meaning of kephale in the Greek used in Paul’s writings should always be defined as authority over or superiority. While we debated with Mark on the context of 1 Corinthians 11 from his last post, this one will allow us to get into more detail about the Greek word usage. Just remember when we discuss and debate with Mark that we are to treat him with respect and deal with the argument itself. This is not the place for an attack on the person, but for a passionate debate on the issues.
I have purposely left this article of Mark’s to be the second one online since I firmly believe that any issue of word meaning is always dependent on the particular context. However, it is good to talk about meanings, and so this will be the discussion on this post.
The following is from Mark the complementarian from Australia and interaction with Mark will be in the comment section.
by Mark the complementarian from Australia
Preface: What I hope to address in this short post is the question of whether or not ‘kephale’ would have been used by Paul in the New Testament to denote a position of authority over another. If it was a possibility was it then Paul’s intended meaning in using this word in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. The interpretation of this word is vital for both the Egal and Comp position to ‘prove’ their theological standpoint.
1. Let’s first address the Lexicon. As helpful as dictionaries may be to give a meaning to a word, ultimately it is the context that plays the determining factor. The most accurate and helpful Lexicon which covers the New Testament period, both biblical and non-biblical works, is the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich. Let me again note that this is the most accurate Lexicon for the NT period, as its focus is on this specific period. I’m aware that other Lexicons have ‘source’ as a translation but no other Lexicon focuses primarily on the NT period. Let’s see its entry for ‘kephale’
“2.fig.-a. In the case of living beings, to denote superior rank…head of the husband in relation to his wife 1 Cor 11:3b; Eph 5:23a. Of Christ in relation to the church Eph 4:15; 5:23b. But Christ is not only of the church, but of the universe as a whole: Eph 1:21 and of every cosmic power: Col 2:10. The divine influence on the world results in the series: God the k. Of Christ, Christ the k. Of the man, the man the k. Of the woman 1 Cor 11:3 c, a, b.”
So convincingly the Lexicon that deals with NT texts and the NT period does see ‘kephale’ “to denote superior rank”. Interestingly it does not see ‘source’ as an acceptable translation for ‘kephale’ during this period of Greek literature. Also note although some other Lexicons (although not dealing exclusively with the NT period) do see ‘source’ as a possible translation, not one of them has ever listed ‘source’ as a metaphorical meaning for kephale when applied to persons. When ‘kephale’ is used in relation to people, the accepted meaning is always one has superiority over another.
2. One of the most helpful texts for determining Greek meanings is found in the Greek translation of the OT- LXX. But the question must be asked, does the LXX even have ‘kephale’ in it and if so, is it used to support either a translation for ‘source’ or of ‘superior rank’. Also, note the LXX was translated somewhere in the 3rd Century BC. Many scholars on both sides of the debate have recognised that the LXX does use kephale to denote a position in superior rank, even if its usage is limited. For example-
2 Samuel 22:44- You shall keep me as the head of the Gentiles: a people which I knew not served me.
Psalm 18:43- You shall keep me as the head of the Gentiles: a people whom I knew not served me.
Isaiah 7:9- The head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah
There are many others which are debated due to ‘variant readings’ (Judges 10:18, Judges 11:8, Judges 11:9, Judges 11:11, Isaiah 7:8) so I will not attach them to this post. But none the less it must be concluded that the translators for the LXX saw ‘kephale’ to denote some sort of authority. That means that Paul’s ‘bible’ used ‘kephale’ in this way. Please also note, not once is ‘kephale’ ever able to be translated as ‘source’ in the LXX.
3. Other ancient non-biblical literature–
Hermas Similitudes 7.3- “Cannot be punished in any other way than if you, the head of the house, be afflicted.”
Plutarch, Galba 4.3- “Vindex…wrote to Galba inviting him to assume the imperial power, and thus to serve what was a vigorous body in need of a head.”
Plutarch, Cicero 14.4- “ There are two bodies, one lean and wasted, but with a head, and the other headless but strong and large. What am I doing wrong if I myself become a head for this?”
Post script: Again there are many more which I could contribute here but the debates over these texts have stemmed for decades now and there is no point repeating them here. The fact is, ‘kephale’ was used and understood by other ancient Greek writers to denote an authority.
So whether one looks at Lexicons, The LXX or other ancient literature, it is evidently clear that “superior rank” was a possible meaning for ‘kephale’ in the New Testament. Not to mention the ease at which such a definition fits into the biblical framework. Paul was familiar with the LXX as a Jewish Rabbi and could easily have used ‘kephale’ in this context.
Let me finish with a challenge for everybody else. At this point, I strongly agree with Mr Grudem
Where is even one clear example of kephale used of a person to mean ‘source’ in all of Greek literature before or during the time of the New Testament? Is there even one example that is unambiguous?
Let’s be honest about things. One cannot say they are not closed to what the Bible teaches but yet ignore the bombardment of evidence to support ‘kephale’ authoritatively. If one chooses to be realistic about the evidence, they will see the error in attempting to understand 1 Cor 11 and Eph 5 as ‘source’- it is not only wrong, but a distortion of the truth of the Bible.